Setting up your PPC ads for Optimal Tracking

Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft AdCenter all allow you, the advertiser, to set up unique URLs to point back to your website. In fact, each ad may (and should) have it’s own unique URL. You don’t need to create unique landing pages for each ad. But instead, you can make each URL unique through the use of URL parameters. By adding parameters to each URL, you will be able to track performance of each campaign in a variety of web analytics tools.

It looks like this:

Display URL =
Actual URL =

The Display URL is what will show up in the ad. The Actual URL is the actual link that will be used to take visitors to your site. Let’s break down the Actual URL parameters:


The question mark symbol is required to set the parameters aside from the link. For most intents, humans and browsers ignore anything to the right of the question mark (the parameters can signal web servers to do something speical).  But web analytics tools can use the parameters to differentiate click sources. So this parameter src=gglp will indicate that all clicks with this parameter originated from GooGLe Ppc.


Now we use the ampersand & to separate the next parameter(name value pair) from the last. This “camp” parameter indicates clicks that came from Campaign #1. It’s a good habit to keep your parameters long enough to be recognizable to a human, but as short as possible without being cryptic.


We use the ampersand again to add two more parameters indicating Ad Group #62 and ad creative #2.

We can now use just about any analytics tool to segment and compare the behavior of the traffic from each PPC engine, campaign, group, and individual ad. If you keep your ads in logical groups, then the aggregate behavior of each group will become apparent in a segment-oriented web analytics tool like Omniture or ClickTracks.

Adwords URL Setup

MSN AdCenter PPC Ad URL Setup

Two notes:

  1. Google Analytics gets around this problem with use of the gclid parameter that changes for each ad appearance. Nice for Google, but a pain for those who want to use other analytics tools. Use the parameters so, in case you don’t want to use Google Analytics, you can slide right into any other analytics tool and get results.
  2. Long parameter lists are fine for URLs used in PPC ads. But you should avoid long parameter lists on non-PPC ads and on links within your site. Search engines spiders can get confused by long parameter lists. But the good news is that the URLs in your PPC ads aren’s crawled by the spiders. They simply serve to allow a web analytics tool to know one ad from the other.

That should help for now. Go parameterize your ads!

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  1. Chad Summerhill says

    I will be implementing Omniture’s SearchCenter product in the near future, and according to Omniture SearchCenter automatically ads the appropriate tracking url to all ads. They claim that for each click I will be able to see:

    engine/campaign/ad group/landing page/ad name/keyword/

    So, that would mean that I don’t have to individually tag anything. SearchCenter identifies the account structure and applies the appropriate tracking.

    Is it really this easy, or am I missing something.

  2. Chad Summerhill says


    I appreciate you quick response. Just to make sure I’m understanding you correctly:

    I can use the format or a similar format to the one you’ve described above (?src=gglp&camp=1&grp=62&ad=2) and then I could setup most web analytics tools parse out the tracking information.

    If I use the auto-parameterization/dynamic query string features offered by the engines it may be easier to tag (but not uniform across engines) and then it would require more work in setting up my analytics tool to parse out the tracking information for each engine.

    If I use the auto-parameterization offered through a bid management tool then it provides uniform traking codes across engines, but it makes my life more difficult if/when I change bid management tools(in the case of SearchCenter, I believe it appends a 16 digit code to the destination url and then decodes it SiteCatalyst and SearchCenter.

    Is this correct?


  3. says


    A significant part of your choice of parameter technique will relate to the exclusivity of the system required by your vendor. For example, Google Analytics and other web analytics tools have pre-determined parameter names, that when set, are automatically picked up and assessed.

    Then you have the “autoparam” systems that rewrite your ad URLs in AdWords and other systems. I took a look at SearchCenter and could not find the claim of what I’d call “auto-parameterization” of PPC URLs. Doesn’t mean it’s not there. I’ve put in a request to my contacts at Omniture for clarification.

    It’s a little extra work, but I choose to parameterize my own ads to ensure that the scheme is usable for multiple web analytics programs, and doesn’t lock me into one system.


  4. nethy says

    Is it possible to get other tools (particularly clicktracks) to recognise Adwords/YSM ‘auto tagging’ or ‘auto-parameterization’ or whatever you call it?

  5. says

    The last I checked, (about three months ago) Google won’t give the access to vendors to decrypt the ever-changing gclid. Vendors may want to chime in here… But why be locked into Google analytics? Paramaterization of your ads might be mildly painful at worst (at first), but then you are free to use any tool. ClickTracks is especially useful because it can go back in time and segment on data you collected in the past. Google Analytics is very good for AdWords analysis, but you have to paramaterize all your other ads (Yahoo, etc) to see the data in Google Analytics.

  6. nethy says

    You are preaching to the choir. I prefer to use clicktracks for most analysis but I’d still like to have some of the Google Analytics Reports for things related to adwords.
    Do different tools understand each others’ paramaterization formats?

    Can you determine your own format & then instruct the analytics tool (clicktracks & Google analytics are the only ones I currently use) to understand it?

    I guess it’s asking too much to ask Adwords to cooperate and ad an auto-tag option that would be readable by Clicktracks etc.

    The ‘pain’ can be slightly more then mild at times. Because of the way I prefer to set up larger campaigns, (these are the ones where I have the most need for quality tracking and can justify investment in a quality tool and time to use it) I may have 100s of ads running simultaneously so.

  7. nethy says

    I’d like to congratulate you & the rest of Marketing Motive on this project. Gaining sucess in the field of paid sites/resources will be a great achievment, as I am sure you are all well aware. I just watched your teaser tutorial (I admit from a completely prospecting perspective).
    (taking the analogy to the next step) Between that and this post I’ve been convinced to approach the issue of Analytics set-up in a more hands on way and learn to do it properly.

    I will also be on the lookout for any parallel pricing back-doors to Marketing Motive membership.

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